Crookston Castle is an unusual castle in an imposing hilltop location surrounded by a deep and well preserved defensive ditch. It is also surrounded by the southern suburbs of Glasgow, lying as it does some 4 miles south west of the centre of Glasgow and a little under 3 miles east of Paisley. Urban castles can sometimes be a disappointment, offering more evidence of repeated visits by local youths wielding cans of spray paint than of the people who for centuries lived in them. Crookston Castle, in pleasant contrast, turns out to offer far more of interest than the casual visitor might expect.
Your first problem is finding the castle. It lies within a mile of Junction 2 on the M77, or of Pollok Park. If you are not familiar with the south side of Glasgow and have a GPS, the simplest option is to let it take you to "Castleside Road", where you park and walk up the grassy slope towards the cottage that guards the gate in the railings surrounding the castle itself.
Within the railings you follow a track that crosses a gap in the deep defensive ditch which would once have been protected by a guardhouse, and approach the west end of the castle, an end that shows fairly heavy signs of restoration. As you make your way round to the east end of the castle you find evidence of two large towers, one of which stands to an impressive height, and gain an opportunity to admire Crookston Castle from its "best" side.
The door to the castle is on its north wall, in the protected angle formed by the north east tower. Inside you find an unusually complex structure with considerably more than you might expect to explore. Highlights include the superb ribbed vaulting of the basement level and the view upwards from the hall above it, a view that suggests that most of the levels in the castle were originally vaulted. Of particular interest are the holes in the north wall beside the main door. These connect to a chamber off the basement housing the well and are though to be sockets for a wooden machine used to draw water from it.
Above the level of the roofless hall, further exploration is limited to the north east tower. You access the second floor via a spiral staircase and an interestingly complex route that sees you actually descend into the tower at second floor level. From here there are two further floors within the tower, and a rooftop level. They are accessed via metal ladders, each of which in turn is increasingly vertiginous. Having climbed the third ladder you emerge through a narrow trapdoor opening onto the railing-edged roof. With five levels of castle and a hill beneath you, the views over southern Glasgow are excellent, as are the views down into the surviving parts of the castle and of the remarkably complete surrounding ditch.
Even from here, you get little indication that what you are looking down onto was, during its prime in the late 1400s, an x-shaped castle, whose central core was protected by a tower, probably as high as the one you are standing on, at each of its four corners. The result would probably have looked a little like Hermitage Castle. The two western towers were effectively removed in 1489 when the castle was held against James IV during a rebellion by John Stewart, 1st Earl of Lennox. James responded by taking the huge bombard, Mons Meg, to Crookston, where its 330lb shot quickly reduced the resolve of the defenders, though not before it had virtually destroyed the western end of the castle, including two of the towers.
But let's start at the beginning. The origins of Crookston Castle date back to the late 1100s, when Sir Robert de Croc (after who Crookston was named) built a wooden castle on a hilltop location here, defended by a deep enclosing ditch. The property passed to the Stewart family in the 1300s, and in about 1400 they replaced the wooden castle with a stone one. This was the x-plan castle that was so badly damaged in 1489. Crookston Castle was repaired after the siege, but probably never regained its western towers to their original height. In 1544 the castle was again besieged and captured, this time by the Earl of Arran and Cardinal Beaton during the struggle to establish control over the future of the infant Mary, Queen of Scots.
Fast forward two decades, and it was probably at Crookston Castle, still in the hands of the Darnley branch of the Stewart family, that Mary, Queen of Scots agreed to marry Lord Darnley. The yew tree under which they were said to have concluded their agreement was chopped down in 1816, and a model of Crookston Castle made from it is on display in Pollok House (see image, right).
In 1757 Crookston Castle was sold to the Maxwells of Pollok. After a period of decay, the Maxwells undertook a partial restoration of the castle to coincide with Queen Victoria's visit to Glasgow in 1847. It seems to have been at this time that the north east tower was restored to its original height, the stump of the south east tower and west end of the castle were neatened up, and remaining above ground evidence of the western towers was removed.
In 1931, Crookston Castle was gifted to the National Trust for Scotland, and became its first property. Although still owned by the NTS, the castle is today cared for by Historic Environment Scotland.